Why Jesus received the Baptism of Repentance

Jesus went to John at the Jordan River to be baptized by him. The bible consistently understands John’s baptism as “a baptism of Repentance” (Mk 1:4; Lk 3:3; Acts 2:38, 13:24, 19:4). In Ephesus Paul found some disciples who had not received the Holy Spirit – did not even know about the Holy Spirit – but had been baptized with John’s baptism, and Paul explicitly states that John’s is a baptism of repentance (Acts 19:4). John is resistant to the idea of baptizing Jesus, perhaps for this very reason. Yet Jesus insists. (Mt 3:13-14) It is only Matthew who tells the story this way, perhaps expressing his own theological interest in righteousness – Matthew uses the word 20 times, more than the other three writers combined. By the time Hebrews is written, the faith proclamation included the idea that Jesus was “tempted in every way that we are, yet without sin” (Heb 4:15). But Jesus’ contemporaries certainly wouldn’t have thought of him that way. His sinlessness was not something that would have been notable. His family and friends and neighbors did not recognize him as special in that way – indeed he was simply “the carpenter, the son of Mary…” (Mk 6:3).

What then is the reason for Jesus to be baptized?

  • Some have said that it was so Jesus could enter into the tradition of John
  • Others argue that is was a symbol of Jesus’ own humility
  • Still others suggest that it was an opportunity for Jesus to be publicly affirmed by God


    All of these are likely true


Beyond them, though, there is something else. Jesus had been living a life very different from the one he was about to begin living. He would make a change, a turn in the course his life was taking up until that time. This change of direction requires a turning from one way of living toward another that is focused on God in a new way. It was like Jesus himself was being reborn as a new person – someone his family and neighbors didn’t recognize. This change is what repentance is all about, and thus Jesus received John’s baptism of repentance to symbolize and solidify publicly his own change of life – dying to an old way and being born again to a new way.


You see, repentance reshapes life.

You and I cannot truly be followers of Jesus unless we repent of the old way of our life. And unless our lives are qualitatively different because we are followers of Jesus than they would be without Jesus, we have not really repented. Jesus turned from how he understood his relationship to family, to community, to vocation, to home, to the present and the future, to God and how he would live a faithful life. He did not reject any of these things, he simply transformed how he thought about and related to them. His baptism marked that shift, for himself and for those around him. Repentance reshapes life.

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